Dear Mayor-elect Keisha Lance Bottoms,
Congratulations on being elected Atlanta’s 60th mayor!
I begin this letter with an outstretched hand to let you know I want you to be a successful mayor.
My hope is you will appreciate the role of the press – to question, to inform, to probe, to be skeptical, and yes, to be critical when necessary.
This hope is not limited to me. Ideally you will embrace people who think differently than you do, that you will treat the press and fellow public servants with respect, and that you will seek mutually-beneficial solutions while governing our city.
It is no secret I’ve had a rocky relationship with your predecessor – Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed. Almost every time I questioned a certain policy, issue or act by the Mayor, I would feel his wrath – either in a personally-targeted press release, a phone call or a critical tweet.
Of course I was not alone. During his tenure, Reed attacked many of my colleagues in the press as well as several elected leaders and public servants.
It should be possible, even essential, that we have civil discussions on public policy or specific issues – and to do so without ending up as enemies. It is my sincere hope you and I will be able to have a respectful relationship, and more importantly, that you will work to bring the entire city together in a constructive way.
So what will it take for you to be successful?
- First and foremost, you must quickly demonstrate your commitment to running an ethical administration and governing with integrity. The federal corruption investigation has cast a cloud over City Hall, and you will need to take bold steps to clear the air. You mentioned many solid ideas during the campaign – bringing in more transparency to City Hall, cleaning up the city’s procurement process and following strict ethical guidelines when awarding contracts and doing the city’s business.
- Second, you need to quickly exert your independence from Mayor Reed. During the campaign, you said you were your own person – that you would be the mayor, not Mayor Reed. More specifically, you said your administration would not be a third term for Reed. If that is true, you will need to show us that you’re in charge by being willing to prove your independence. One place to start would be to seek a pause and reset on the airport concessions that Mayor Reed has been pushing to get done by the end of the year.
- Ideally, you will surround yourself with people who are not beholden to Mayor Reed. The people on your team need to be the best Atlanta can attract – and not just people whose greatest attribute is having been loyal to Mayor Reed. That includes making sure you are able to make your own appointments to a host of city-related boards or authorities – such as the Atlanta Housing Authority, the Atlanta-Fulton County Recreation Authority, MARTA, Invest Atlanta, the Atlanta BeltLine Inc., the city’s pension boards, among others. (Mayor Reed has already taken away much of your decision-making ability by making 11th hour appointments. You’ll need to do all you can to make sure you are the one running City Hall and not just inheriting Reed’s appointments and leaving the impression he is still pulling the strings).
- During Reed’s administration, public engagement has been viewed as more of a nuisance rather than a welcome necessity to create the “city on a hill.” Instead of ramming through projects, developments and deals with little community input, you would regain much of the public’s trust if you genuinely embraced a collaborative approach to governing and decision-making going forward.
Several of Mayor Reed’s initiatives are to be commended, and they have received widespread public support.
For example, the Atlanta City Design Project gives our city and even our region a strategy of how we should grow while keeping our neighborhoods intact, protecting our tree canopy, preserving our historic buildings and guiding redevelopment to commercial corridors.
Also, the city has become much more focused on making Atlanta more affordable to people of all income levels, and I look forward to your efforts to make sure gentrification does not push out Atlanta’s longtime residents.
Among other of Reed’s commendable policies include: declaring Atlanta a “welcoming city” – one that invites people from all over the world to call Atlanta home; putting Atlanta on a path towards sustainability – such as signing on to the Paris Climate Accord; and developing new parks and green space often by leveraging the city’s waterways and partnering with the city’s watershed department; and striking a cooperative relationship with Gov. Nathan Deal and the state legislature.
Unfortunately, many of Reed’s accomplishments have been mired by his confrontational personality and bullying tactics aimed at destroying his “enemies” rather than finding areas of consensus.
Mayor-elect Bottoms, you have a great opportunity. As a woman and a mother, you can take the high road rather than ruling through fear or demanding blind loyalty. You can strike a tone of cooperation and collaboration to bring the city together
Remember, from here on out, you are accountable to the entire community.
As a lifelong Atlantan and a keen observer of city politics over the past four decades, I genuinely want you to succeed as Atlanta’s 60th mayor.